Published: 27th May 2021
COVID-19 will stay for generations, next wave likely in November: IIPH Professor
Allowing political, social and religious gatherings too early in the life of the pandemic is one of the prime reasons for the rapid fueling of cases in the second wave, according to him
Like the flu, COVID-19 is here to stay for generations, according to the Director of the Indian Institute of Public Health, Hyderabad, Prof GVS Murthy. Available data from different states suggests that June-end may see a significant downward spiral in COVID-19 cases in South and West India, he said. "In North and East India, it may be mid-July for a significant decrease in the cases", Prof Murthy said on Thursday.
Allowing political, social and religious gatherings too early in the life of the pandemic is one of the prime reasons for the rapid fueling of cases in the second wave, according to him. Despite signals emerging from February that we could see an upswing of cases, prompt public health response was lacking, he said, adding this is because public health professionals have not been engaged in the response.
"In all countries where the COVID-19 response was quick and need-based, there was authority and responsibility vested in the public health leadership. Unfortunately, the same was not seen in India where it was more of non-public health or political response," Prof Murthy said. He said COVID-19 is here to stay with us for a long time.
An infectious agent once introduced into the community continues to simmer and lead to localised outbreaks. "Flu has been with us for generations now and the same will be the course of COVID-19," he said. He is of the view that outbreaks will occur whenever a large number of people susceptible to the infection are available.
"We know that post the COVID-19 infection, immunity is only for a short duration of 3-6 months, after which the same person is vulnerable to getting reinfected. The reinfection will depend on the viral load to which the susceptible person is exposed. We have seen some Chief Ministers and national leaders also getting infected a second time. So nobody is permanently immune," Prof Murthy said.
According to him, it will take five to six months for the next COVID-19 wave to occur as, by then, the population immunity will once again wane off. "So November could again be a worrying time." In pandemics, it is the older and more infirm people who succumb first, but with each succeeding wave, more of the middle-aged and younger people, including children, get infected. This is the danger of the next wave, he said.
"If the country can vaccinate more than 80 per cent of those above 30 years of age by November, we will be able to mount an effective challenge to the spread of COVID," Prof Murthy said. At the same time, efforts should be made to field-test available vaccines in children so that if possible, the vaccine can be added to the 'Universal Programme of Immunisation' in the country.
Prof Murthy underlined that there needs to be a continued ban on large gatherings till February 2022 if we have to reduce the risk. Schools and offices can be opened up with adequate precautions. "If the country does not create a public health cadre with adequate decision-making authority being vested in them, from the district-level onwards, we will always be playing a catch-up game rather than planning proactively with adequate projections and data," he opined.